Thursday, November 15, 2007

Patterico has a question

Note that I didn't say it was a good one...

Let me translate it into human speak for you. "Let's create a hypothetical situation in which, if you follow your moral code, an awful thing will happen. Tell me that you want to violate your moral code, so I can insist that you have no further right to complain, or tell me that you want the awful thing to happen, so I can insist that you're a horrible person."

Don't believe me?

Let’s assume the following hypothetical facts are true. U.S. officials have KSM in custody. They know he planned 9/11 and therefore have a solid basis to believe he has other deadly plots in the works. They try various noncoercive techniques to learn the details of those plots. Nothing works.

They then waterboard him for two and one half minutes.

During this session KSM feels panicky and unable to breathe. Even though he can breathe, he has the sensation that he is drowning. So he gives up information — reliable information — that stops a plot involving people flying planes into buildings.

My simple question is this: based on these hypothetical facts, was the waterboarding session worth it?


Note that Patterico is incorrect about waterboarding. I've recently come to understand how it works.

The make sure you can't breathe through your mouth. Then, they start dumping water down your nostrils. Water gets into your airway. What do you do when there's water in your sinuses? You breathe out, to clear them. Soon, your lungs are empty (as empty as you can get them). You will breathe in, sooner or later, and the water is going to run into your lungs.

Now, if they don't use too much water, you'll probably live. Hell, with a doc standing by, you'll almost certainly live, unless you're already suffering from lung problems. But that's not the point. You'll also live if they beat you with a rubber hose, it won't leave any marks, or make any lasting injury... that's why rubber hoses were used to beat confessions out of suspects.

But everyone knows that beating people is torture. You can't try to use lawyerly tricks to excuse it.

I decided to answer Patterico's question, though it's so self-servingly phrased that it doesn't deserve an answer.

I pointed out that it's the equivalent of saying "If God came down and said to you that you had a choice: either someone gets waterboarded for a couple minutes, or a terrorist attack occurs... nothing else will change, those are the only two results of your choice. You have to make a choice. Which do you prefer?"

Obviously, one would pick the waterboarding (because in these hypothetical situations, God is always honest and all-knowing, and all that).

And isn't that the point?

We are not God.

We don't know what the outcomes will be. That's why we can't torture.

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